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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2012
Alan Watts was one of the great popularisers of 'eastern' thinking in the west. This 1951 classic is probably an excellent starting point for anyone wanting an introduction to Watts' writing. Even though this book is well over 60 years old, it remains an extremely timely read, and it is surprisingly fresh in both its approach and thinking. Watts' starting point is the predicament of western man in the mid twentieth century; the book is definitely a product of 'you've never had it so good' 1950's materialism. Watts was one of the first people to detect the spiritual emptiness that many people feel in modern society (in spite of rising living standards and longevity) and in this book he proposes, if not a cure for this feeling of emptiness, then at least a new way of looking at things.

Watts also shows how scientific scepticism has undermined the belief in God. Watts sums up this stance perfectly: 'If, the scientists would say, you believe in God, you must do so on purely emotional grounds, without basis in logic or fact.' Needless to say such scepticism has grown inordinately since Watts wrote these words and it has perhaps reached its zenith in recent years with the 'New Atheist' movement. This scientific viewpoint has made the belief in the Christian God untenable for many western people, and it is to such an audience that Watts aims his writing.

There are so many pithy statements in this book; every page seems to contain a phrase or sentence that just leaps out at you and I love Watts' distinction between faith and belief: 'belief clings while faith lets go.' You could certainly see similarities between Watts' writing in this book and the work of J. Krishnamurti in such books as 'The First and Last Freedom.' (1954) Watts and Krishnamurti also share similiar preoccupations with 'the thought and the thinker,' the burden of selfhood and the nature of time and its role in creating psychology insecurity. In spite of these similarities, however, Watts' fascinating blend of eastern and western thinking and his own distinctive turn of phrase give him a memorable voice all of his own.

In summary an excellent and influential book. Many modern writers have taken many of the ideas that Watts first set out in English all those years ago and taken them mainstream but, for me, Watts is the original and the best.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 1999
One of my favorite books of all time. I've reread it more times than any other, but never without reaching new insights and finding new inspiration. It's filled with wisdom like the following: "[I]t is a serious misapplication of psychology to make the presence or absence of neurosis the touchstone of truth, and to argue that if a man's philosophy makes him neurotic, it must be wrong. 'Most atheists and agnostics are neurotic, whereas most simple Catholics are happy and at peace with themselves. Therefore the views of the former are false, and of the latter true.' Even if the observation is correct, the reasoning based on it is absurd. It is as if to say, 'You say there is a fire in the basement. You are upset about it. Because you are upset, there is obviously no fire." Watts talks about the many subtle proprieties of life in which we are all engaged but which we seldom discuss. Then, the instant you read them, you feel as if your own thoughts had been read aloud. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2005
What can i say, this book is truly brilliant. Watts identifies the destructive ways in which the majority of human race seem to lead their lives: attempting to achieve security which does not exist, and pointlessly chasing it faster and faster in the attempt.
While this outlook may seem pessimistic it is rather the opposite. Watts is pointing to another way to live, the discovery of our true selves, it's just we have forgotten our true nature, which has been clouded by the worship of consumerism, materialism and scientific thought.
'Belief clings on, but faith lets go'. Watts suggests that we need to release our burdens of life before we will find our way again. And he is right.
My favourite part in the book is where Watts explores the use of language and 'describing' things.
"What is this? This is a rose. But 'a rose' is a noise. What is a noise? A noise is an impact of air waves on the ear drum. Then a rose is an impact on the eardrum? No, a rose is aroseis a rose..."
This attitude to everyday life is present throughout the book and simply makes you think about the way you lead your life. I keep reading this book over and over again and finding i understand more each time. This book will help you to find your way again.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2009
Alan Watts (1915-1973) initially trained as an Anglican priest and became increasingly interested in the 1940s in the teachings of Eastern philosophy and religion. Watts published over 25 books on the brain, human consciousness, faith and the true nature of reality.

Almost universally glowing reviews about how his 1951 book The Wisdom of Insecurity has radically changed people's lives runs the risk of new readers' expectations being too high. It is quite a hardgoing book written in a deceptively simple style. Watts pointedly writes that the 150-page book "is not a psychological or spiritual discipline for self-improvement"; instead he considers himself (as he has said elsewhere) to be a "philosophical entertainer", showing you his vision of the world for you to enjoy with him. The road can be as witty as it is enlightening - for example when he looks up to the night sky and asks: "How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive?".

Back on the ground the key to Watts's argument is that the age of insecurity and anxiety is "the result of trying to be secure". To resolve this painful circularity of feeling, we should accept that "we have no way of saving ourselves" and learn to be "effortlessly aware of the present experience". Watts vividly describes the existence with which many can identity: people living in a "fantasy of expectation rather than the reality of the present", failing to really live "because they are always *preparing* to live. Instead of earning a living they are mostly earning an earning." Hence his tenet that we need to embrace the present moment, that in reality there is no past or future, there is only now: "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."

If you find the writing too dry or feel lost in the wilderness but are still intrigued, I'd recommended watching some of the many television recordings of Alan Watts found online (e.g. 'A Conversation with Myself' or 'Work as Play').
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 1998
Each time I pick up my latest copy of this book I find a new, seemingly self-evident truth. My first copy, which I received in 1972 from my girlfriend, opened my eyes to the futility of chasing headlong after so-called "security." Watts blends eastern and western thought and cultural habits, and shows ever-so-clearly that this chase is futile, indeed an oxymoron: the chase is doomed to be eternal, only in giving up the chase can we reach the prize (or, more precisely, can it reach us).
I've given copies to so many friends over the years, but as I write these words it still graces the bookshelf beside me. I treasure it highly, and read passages from it often, 26 years later.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 1997
an excellent book,cured my depression! made me look at life as a now thing and to stop freaking about the future and what can happen tommorrow. life is indescribable so we should stop trying to describe it. instead go with it...let it be as it chooses to be.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2014
A short, accessible yet profound book about the human condition and its easy cure. Decades old but perfectly fitted to today, it is at once the most theoretically solid and practical intro I have read to the whole "living in the moment" malarkey. There is nothing hokey, vacuous or hippy-dippy about it, unlike a lot of contemporary books about "mindfulness"... this is life-changing because it is rigorously thought-through and beautiful articulated. Everybody interested in life should read it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2012
Really helps you understand that life is all about this very moment in time.Not tomorrow or yesterday.What is this world if full of care if we don't have time to stand & stare
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2012
Saves from having to trawl through the usual offerings on Buddhist thoughts as though it were a biblical story insisting on the detail about times and events relating to the development of Buddhism. The content gets straight down to Alan Watts own interpretation of Buddhism which is what makes all of his books thought provoking.
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on 7 March 2015
I bought this book after listening to Watts' mesmerizing YouTube lectures, and I could hear his clear voice speaking as I read it. It should be remembered that Watts died in 1977 and that this book was originally written in the 1950s. The odd politically incorrect comment needs to be forgiven, therefore. It is a book of its time.

Watts espouses an Eastern philosophy that has its roots deep within Buddhism and Hinduism. It is eloquent throughout, which demonstrates Watts' particular ability to make concepts alien to Western readers accessible. Nevertheless, I think anyone starting their exploration of Eastern spirituality might get a bit bogged down if this is the first book they read. A better start would Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, especially the first third of that book. For those who have already done a bit of reading on this subject, however, this book is an absolute gem.
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